As was reported Sunday morning, legendary NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were killed in a tragic helicopter crash in California, which claimed the lives of Bryant, his child and seven others. The news stunned athletes and fans around the world leading the NBA to briefly consider canceling games on Sunday, including the Rockets loss at Denver.
While it wasn't logistically possible to cancel the games, they may as well have been given the generally somber performances around the league. In San Antonio, the Spurs and Raptors agreed to run out the 24-second shot clock on the first possession to honor Bryant. efforts around the league including players like Kyrie Irving taking the game off, grief stricken from the loss of Bryant, 41, survived by his wife and three other daughters. The Dallas Mavericks announced they would retire Bryant's number 24 despite him never playing for the team and the Grammy's had numerous tributes inside Staples Center, what host Alicia Keys called "the house that Kobe Bryant built."
The Rockets struggled to express their feelings as well, with players like Austin Rivers fought to hold back tears before and after the game. Many players considered themselves close to the former Laker. Bryant was a mentor to many young players as his career wound down and into the early years of his abbreviated retirement.
Kobe Bryant doing an interview at his last game in Houston in 2016.
Photo by Jack Gorman
But while he was on the court, he was as dominant as any player in league history. He won five rings with the Lakers, was a two-time scoring champ, the MVP in the 2007-08 season and, remarkably, a 12-time all defensive player. He averaged 25 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists for his career. He is the fourth leading scorer in NBA history.
Not surprisingly, he was also outstanding against his league rivals in Houston. Bryant averaged 26 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in his 61 games against the Rockets. Most importantly, he held the edge on the Rockets 35-26 in those games.
Perhaps his most memorable performance was his last. In April of 2016 on his farewell tour, he dropped 35 points in 27 minutes against James Harden and crew in a 130-110 loss for the Lakers. Harden finished with 40 in the win against the team from his home town and Bryant, who admired Harden even at a young age.
Bryant's loss as a player will be felt for years throughout the league, but his impact as a role model and mentor for players will last for decades.